It’s typical enough for partisans to view their leaders differently than the rest of the public, but the gap between the GOP’s opinion of Trump and how half of the electorate view him is deep and enduring.
Not only that, Trump’s allegations are making him stronger in the fight for the Republican nominations — generating GOP sympathy and making him the center of attention — while he’s packing more bags for a potential general election. This push-and-pull, yin-yang dynamic, with Republicans increasingly attached to a more difficult-to-elect candidate, could yet prove decisive in both races.
It is not uncommon for politicians to create electoral vulnerabilities by shifting too far to the right or left in the process of winning a nomination. Hence, the conventional trajectory of a candidate trying to readjust by returning to the center in general.
This is different. What adjustments can Trump make? He can’t go unindicted in the general election, or drop his claims on the 2020 election, or reverse all the water that has flowed under the bridge since 2015. He won’t get more polite or give up ALL CAPS SOCIAL POST TRUTH.
What Republicans find attractive about Trump is, with some exceptions, what the rest of the electorate finds harmful, and vice versa.
It’s not Trump’s positions so much as his persona — in other words, the GOP is not potentially taking an electoral risk to advance an ideological goal or set of policies, but to associate with a political figure they like and almost no other does.
Republicans see Trump as a victim, the wider electorate as a wrongdoer; GOP voters find it charming and funny, other voters unnecessarily offensive and controversial; to Republicans he is a brave truth teller, to all others he is not to be trusted.
That doesn’t mean Trump can’t win a general, just that there is an inherent resistance to his candidacy that will require a considerable fortune to overcome.
It is a symptom of the Trump divide that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s indictment, which was indeed outrageously weak, propelled Trump to another level of dominance in the GOP primary race, while at the same time most voters he took the allegations seriously. Fifty-four percent of all voters approved the charge in an Economist/YouGov survey and a plurality of independents approved, while 68 percent of Republicans strongly or somewhat disapproved.
In the case of documents, it is the same thing. According to a new Harvard/Harris survey, 60 percent of independents think the federal government is well placed, while only 30 percent of Republicans do. Among independents, 45% think he is guilty and should be convicted, while 15% of Republicans do.
It could be wash, rinse and repeat, with maybe two more charges to come. This kind of disparity in public opinion applies to Trump generally. According to a CNN poll71% of Republicans have a favorable opinion of Trump, while 63% of independents have an unfavorable opinion.
In the latest Economist/YouGov survey48% of independents view it very unfavorably and 53% of Republicans view it very favorably.
An NPR/Marist poll was found that 71% of Republicans want Trump to be president again and 68% of independents do not want him to be president again. And so on.
If the GOP set out to identify the least popular candidate it could find who could still win the Republican nomination (usually, broad unpopularity isn’t much of a political calling card), it’s hard to see how it could fare better than Trump.
Once that’s not in the equation, Republicans and Independents tend to align better. According to the Harvard/Harris poll, 92% of Republicans and 82% of independents think FBI documents related to President Joe Biden’s alleged corruption when he was vice president should be released, and 87% of Republicans and 68% of independents think Biden has talked business with Hunter.
Nonetheless, what makes a Trump victory entirely imaginable is that Biden has the same problem with half of the electorate. In the CNN poll, Biden’s yes vote is 73% among Democrats and 25% among independents.
Just as in 2016 and 2020, Trump may be buoyed by his opponent’s weakness, even though he will need more help than ever before. The new CNN poll shows that Trump’s yes vote has declined slightly among GOP-aligned voters. Maybe that’s a problem; maybe it’s a trend. But the way it has worked up to this point is that as Trump becomes a heavier lift, Republican voters are more inclined to pick him up and try to carry him over the finish line in November 2024.
What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, Nietzsche famously wrote. In this case, what could really kill Trump in a general makes him stronger with Republican primary voters.